|Njinja atina nyango gumo. (Sukuma)
Mwuzaji hana mlango mmoja. (Swahili)
Le marchand n’a pas qu’une seule porte. (French)
The salesperson (seller or merchant) does not have only one door. (English)
Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverb
Background, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Sukuma Ethnic Group is the largest ethnic group (more than six million people) in Tanzania in East Africa and live mainly in rural areas in the northwestern part of the country on or near the southern shores of Lake Victoria – mainly in the Mwanza and Shinyanga Regions.
The Sukuma are the largest ethnic group in Tanzania. Sukuma means “north” and refers to “people of the north.” They are relatives of the Nyamwezi Ethnic Group and share a similar language of Bantu origin.
Traditionally part of an oral culture, the Sukuma people use many types of oral literature such as proverbs, sayings, riddles, stories, myths and songs to communicate values and priorities.
A popular Sukuma proverb says the salesperson (seller or merchant) does not have only one door. He or she goes all over the place. The salesperson goes to every door to sell his or her wares. He or she is ready for any response. The person is accustomed to be praised in one place and scorned in another place. The salesperson perseveres whatever happens.
This Sukuma proverb is posted on the:
Sukuma Legacy Project Website
Nanetya Foundation: Ethnic Stories in Mother Tongues Website
St. Paul says, “Preach the word; be ready/prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
This Sukuma proverb relates to always trying and not being afraid to launch out into the deep. Compare Jesus’s words to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4).
The missionary experience is very similar. It is an experience of moving out and reaching out. "And Jesus said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). And in another place: “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” John 20:21). Missionaries are not meant to look inward only but to reach out. Missionaries are called to explore new vistas and new ways of doing things, to be flexible and ready for new experiences. Missionaries adapt to new and unexpected situations.
Missionaries adapt to new and unexpected situations. Compare this with St. Paul’s description of his missionary work in Philippians 4:12-13: "I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well‑fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
There are many characteristic African proverbs from across the continent of Africa — Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — that describe the universal human experience of moving out, of going elsewhere. This reaching out experience is a learning experience as seen in many similar African proverbs and sayings: Traveling is learning (Kikuyu, Kenya). Traveling is seeing (Kikuyu, Kenya/Shona, Zimbabwe). Those who travel see much (Sukuma/Swahili, Eastern and Central Africa). One who does not move about knows very little (Haya, Tanzania). Thus, traveling broadens the mind and enlarges one’s experience.
This Sukuma proverb promotes mission and evangelization. The missionary, the evangelist uses all doors, all means, all avenues of spreading the Gospel. For example, today we reach people with the Good News of Salvation using many means of communication: traditional means, mass media, internet, social media, etc. Pope Francis encourages us to be “bold and creative.”
All Catholics, all laypeople and SCCs members have the missionary obligation to go out to proclaim the good news starting with our own local neighborhoods.
Another application is to African SCCs that adapt to the local context and adjust to local circumstances and situations. SCC members try to find creative ways and “doors” on the grassroots level.
Another application: In brainstorming about various pastoral solutions in youth ministry in Africa (how to reach out to young people) someone said: “If you can’t use the door, use the window or even the roof to get in,” meaning use all possible options or alternatives.
Further information on this proverb can be found in “To Be Called Is to be Sent,” Chapter Eight in Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz, Towards an African Narrative Theology, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1996 (1st Reprint 1996, 2nd Reprint 1997, 3rd Reprint 2000, 4th Reprint 2005, 5th Reprint 2012) and Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997, (many reprints, New Cover 2012). Available as an Ebook on Amazon (for Kindle), Google and Barnes and Noble (for Nook).
Rev. Donald Sybertz, MM
Mission St. Teresa’s
P.O. Box 321
Maryknoll, NY 10545-0321
Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)
973-216-4997 (AT&T, USA)
Photographs provided by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 43844
Cellphone: +254 723-307992